Parenting and Teen Substance Abuse Treatment – A Tale of Two Adolescents

One of the professional hats I wear gives me the opportunity to greet adolescents as they are checked into a residential treatment center for substance abuse and addiction. The other day we greeted two individuals who arrived at nearly the same time. Such occasions are always accompanied by a bit of anxiety as we often don’t know what shape the person will arrive in. Drugs and alcohol don’t typically bring out the best in a person, you know…

However, one of the early dynamics that we tend to place a fair amount of confidence in is who is bringing them in. Most of the time, if the adolescent is accompanied by one or more parents, we operate under an early assumption that the individual may be somewhat willing or open to being there and receiving treatment; that they may realize that they have a problem and want help with it. Alternatively, if they come in with professional transports, they may be somewhat, um… less so.

These two adolescents were both being brought in by their fathers. We felt happy about that. As I mentioned, it often means that the adolescents are more willing to be there and open to treatment. With one of them, that was exactly the case. He had finished several weeks in an excellent wilderness program and was now coming to this program to complete treatment and focus intensively on some drug and alcohol issues as well as learn to apply the skills he had learned in the wilderness in a social setting that was more like what he would be dealing with at home. While there were about a million places he would have rather been, he knew that this was what was best. He was open to the opportunity and knew that his father loved him and that his parents were both doing what they felt was the right thing for him. He was open to the opportunity and willing to make the most of it.

The other one? Well, not so much. She threw a tantrum. A full blown fit, really. When she realized that the treatment center didn’t have the amenities that she felt she required she really came untied. I won’t go into the variety of expletives she used, most of which began with the letter “F” and all the artistic ways she used them in describing to her parents just what she thought of their efforts in her behalf, but it suffices to say, she wasn’t happy… at all.

Here’s the point: Two kids, both with a similar set of problems. Both have parents that care about them enough to provide treatment and the best possible help to find solutions to those problems that they could. Yet, they responded in dramatically different ways. Sure, we can guess that there were big differences in the individuals, the parenting styles used while they were growing up, their life experiences and all sorts of things, but this much remains, they responded very differently to a similar opportunity and circumstance. That at least suggests strongly, that after all we can do as parents, the ultimate outcome doesn’t depend on us; it depends on our children. The lesson? We are responsible for the input; to do our very best and to work to continue to improve that best. The rest-the outcome-is not up to us.

By profession, I suppose the easiest description for me would be that of a psychotherapist. It’s important, I feel, to say that as one word rather than two, by the way… psychotherapist rather than psycho-therapist. (Although I’m willing to allow that there are plenty of the latter!) All that means is that I am someone that has made most of my living working with people in a variety of ways and settings trying to help them experience better lives.

David E. (Davee) Chandler, MSW, LCSW, CPT-S
Parenting – Relationships – Substance Abuse Treatment

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